Thanks, Chief: West Carter Fire Department honors Jones with flagpole, plaque

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, May 4, 2017

It didn’t matter who you were; once the suit came on, Conley Jones considered you family.
Citizens and West Carter County Volunteer Fire Department (WCCVFD) members spent Thursday morning honoring the life of former Fire Chief Conley Jones with the dedication of a flagpole and memorial plaque in conjunction with International Firefighters Day.
Nearly half a century of blood, sweat and tears continual forged a family bond inside the headquarters of the WCCVFD according to President Bill Gwaltney, and it was ever-apparent during the life of Jones.
“To us, this is a bittersweet moment,” Gwaltney told attendees. “Today is International Firefighters’ Day and, also, the second anniversary of Conley’s passing. We are saddened by the loss, not only of a very capable fire chief but even more of a beloved husband, father, grandpa, brother, and friend. At the same time, we take great joy in what our fire company has become because of Con’s leadership. He would not want us to overly sad today.”
Jones served as the Fire Chief of WCCVFD for 44 years and was well-known throughout the community and in the fire service region. Jones, who passed in 2015, was followed up by his son, David, who is the fourth Fire Chief and still serving to this day.
While looking over hundreds of volunteer firefighters during his time at the facility, Jones also served as the past President of the Carter County Fire Association.
Gwaltney provided the Elizabethton Star with a brief bit of history about WCCVFD, which received its official charter from the state on October 2, 1970.
“The possibility of creating a volunteer fire department for our area came under study by the Milligan Optimist Club in the late 1960s,” he said. “We sampled public opinion and found support. In a mass meeting, those present decided to apply for a charter.
Before Conley, Dick Stoughton and Frank Biddix also served as fire chiefs, Gwaltney explained. The family atmosphere did not stop with just WCCVFD chiefs as Gwaltney also recalled former Johnson City Fire Department Chief Clarence Eades as the WCCVFD “Honorary Fire Chief.”
But while recalling the stories of the department’s history, everything leads back to Conley. Along with his memorial outside, the department has a memorial inside the main lobby with his firefighting attire proudly on display.
“On our wall, there are names and pictures reminding us of times when we were struggling to move ahead,” Gwaltney said. “Chief Conley Jones would figure into most of these stories. He was always there, and we knew things would be better with him leading.”
David and Carol Jones were able to hear particular words from their daughter, Ashley, who recalled Conley’s time on earth with an ear-to-ear grin and certain respect.
Continually holding on to that respect and being part of the WCCVFD is what makes it all worthwhile, according to Gwaltney, as individuals following the meeting reflected on the life of the loved one by sharing stories and taking photos with the new memorial pieces
“I continue to work with the department simply for the love of the company,” he said. “We’ve been able to grow so much. We want to recognize our former volunteers. This building was built with a lot of volunteer labor.”

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